8 May 2017

A week gone by

6th-7th May. 2017.

The matters of living and dying, sickness, illness and old age, relationships and love have been whirling around in my mind along with (other) worldly concerns like work, income and livelihoods and related matters. The previous week that just about went by – I have to say – was rather – well, beautiful with conversations, whimsy, walks, delight, laughter, munching, movies, summer rains, and more – and despite the darkness, greyness, awful oddities, broken dreams and brooding mushroom clouds that hover over the world of human beings and despite my being what I am (I think I only stay with myself - for the most part - because I don't have the option of jumping out of my skin). Maybe it’s true that God has a strange sense of humour and so has blended paradoxes along with irony in the woof and warp of life. Anyhow. I know I thoroughly cherish the previous week. Now the weekend is almost over and I’ve been re-visiting very old favourites from Rabindranath (Taalgach being one of them – I was in class II when I read and memorised the poem! – it was listening to the live recital of the poem that made me return to it), walking, working over summer posters, having mini-prophetic sleep dreams, reading up for an upcoming research project, doing some yoga, worrying in bouts, watching some animations - in the hopes of inspiration and possible future use and for a bit of fun (and feeling so strongly that a story titled Sorcery could be made into such a marvellous animated film), breathing some sighs of relief and of even happiness…and reflecting over recent conversations. 

I remember reading in early October last year, an article which had made me grumble, frown and argue instantaneously and scribble a bit. It was a particular article from the Public Discourse blog. The writer was against all forms of assisted suicide and of having any control over the process of dying. Death is an end – according to the author – not a part of life and is a final blow full of nothing but indignity, humiliation and tragedy. Death - said the author - was “viscerally disturbing” and nothing but a “sombre tragedy”. The author made no distinction in terms of age or state of health or mental functioning. Towards the end of reading the article, the only thing I found “heartening” about it was that the writer mentioned that how a person lives and the kind of person that one chooses to become and the kind of life one chooses to live are what count and that the only dignity to be found in death is to be found in the life that preceded it. I don’t disagree with the living part. It does matter. How a person lives, thinks, speaks, acts, the values a person lives and dies by, whether s/he loves, whether s/he truly cares, whom and what s/he loves and cares for, what s/he does, how s/he is as a person – I think these matter. Somewhere, someplace, sometime – yes, but also within the temporal worldly space. Living life – as far as I have noted – does not involve only a matter of making-do or what sociologists used to term an “organic level of existence”. In our current times, maybe many human beings have turned it around and said, “we live to eat, shop, take selfies and go woo-hoo for no reason” but that doesn’t make it right. That said and I could go on with this part – but to cut it short – I certainly do not agree that all death is undignified. Death is a part of life. Absolutely, irrevocably and even perhaps, at some point, enjoyably and to be met with acceptance and peace. Horrible illness or terrible suffering or to be completely incapacitated by physical or mental debilitation...make me feel helpless and undignified but why would the entire process of dying - and with no exceptions - be considered to be undignified? I think it matters how a person faces death, accidents, illness, pain and suffering just as much as it matters how a person faces life in its happiness, joys and meaning and bursts of unalloyed laughter. The monk who was making people laugh at his funeral with the bursting firecrackers hidden in his clothes knew so. The same goes for the individual who opts for Nirvakalpa Samadhi – when s/he knows that “love is done”. Morris Schwartz felt so. Sikander sang about dying with a laugh in Muqaddar ka SikanderThe brother from the tale of the three brothers (Harry Potter) who asked for the invisibility cloak knew the same. Dumbledore said so and believed so and even when he knew he was going to die. Emily Dickinson felt and expressed the same. Sogyal Rinpoche says so in The Tibetan Book of Living and DyingSuvro da writes so with his, “Life is short, fun and precious…it should be fun, even the dying”. Debjaan paints a vivid picture about there being more to death than meets the eye. Only if we believe that this flesh-blood-bones and body is the only reality that exists can we actually say that death is only viscerally disturbing and a sombre tragedy and always undignified. Even if lots of people do believe in the same – I have the feeling that all those who have passed on will have something different to say about that.

And yet. It isn’t that making some semblance of peace with the fact of death and dying being a part of life makes all the pain, questions and doubts go away. Further questions arise. For one thing, one starts wondering and worrying about the hereafter. I do not know whether this is a function of age. Two decades ago, I remember I had been blissfully bereft of any broodings about the hereafter. I was sure that that would be taken care of by the powers-that-be. Now twenty years later, I am still here and I can’t help but wonder sometimes and worry. And then if one goes along that particular pathway – the matters of bardos, reincarnation, karma and the utterly improbable hits and the even more ludicrous misses (in this lifetime) keep rising to one’s foreconscious or maybe have made a permanent home there. The contrast between what has transpired and what hasn't feels well-nigh remarkable. I sometimes feel (and I cannot even begin to explain the conundrum) that I am rapidly and horribly racing against time towards making this lifetime a little useful before it’s too late (leave alone any future ones) and sometimes feel that all is in place and I am exactly where I am supposed to be, so help me God (I am quite sure that it's Fimh who makes me feel this). One can rage against God and weep with one’s Fimh or howl in Fimh's presence or be utterly peevish when suddenly God or maybe Fimh will decide to grace one with a break. Or else one can be as calm and as true to oneself as one can possibly be, insist upon feeling and sending out positive/good vibrations, be utterly grateful...and say that one will just believe in one’s highest truth that one has truly felt and seen and known, and move along at which point there might descend further darkness or sudden light and even words and a pathway that just might bring solace within and a way on the out...I know that there is a correct combination for moving ahead in both the true and useful mode in a single lifetime. Some six years ago, I was jubilantly sure I was putting it into practise and I still have the feeling that I really did at that point, but sadly enough I cannot say that I have come anywhere close to mastering the method in the intervening years, and something tells me that I should have, by now. Even if God came and gave me a consolation prize for 'best effort' - I would grunt at this point and shake my head.  

I know I have thought a bit and reflected a bit in this lifetime – although I am not claiming to have always thought and reflected fruitfully and with great purity (my best friend sometimes calls it “wool gathering”) – but I think that what scares many people about dying and death is the matter of physical pain, the fear of the unknown or of getting stuck somewhere, the fear of letting go of what has become habitual and familiar and known, the niggling feeling or fear of not having lived the life they feel they were supposed to have lived this time around, the fear of being an inconsequential bit of nothing, and for some or a few – of love not mattering. And then there is the matter of those who are left behind, about which I will stay quiet about here. Maybe sometimes a fear or a couple are dismissed or they evaporate or they are warded off or one is told repeatedly that there is no real reason to fear - and one can feel the truth of it in moments of clarity or immense love even if one does not understand the reasons behind it. And I do feel that no matter whether a single lifetime is a mere bubble in the cosmic sense of time and space – a single lifetime does matter. That's why finding meaning and identifying and having a purpose or a few or maybe many, matter. And then one takes one’s leave when it is time and one goes somewhere else. I don't know how many "purposes" can be fulfilled across a single lifetime but one must be able to look back and say that one did what one could do and that one was able to give some times of pure joy and laughter...I don't have material evidence of whether I am right or wrong or delusional but through my readings, reflections, and the moments of clarity and beauty, and even prayer or meditation - that is as far as I have got. And these are just a few of the aspects which keep taunting or teasing or niggling at me me when they do.

And yet. I know for a fact that there are so many aspects (more than I usually think of or imagine) which are not just out of my control but don't even fall within my scope of understanding, no matter how I have tried to coax them to reveal their secrets across the decades. But sometimes I wish that even if I didn't have the power to control outcomes - I understood the complete picture of life, living, specific lifetimes and the hereafter. But I don't even fully understand what the soul is - and this annoys me. What really is the soul? I had this utterly barmy idea once that every soul has a soul-keeper but I think that was just my wistful bit of imagination doing what it does. Anyway. I won't digress further. Sometimes I am sure that such understanding (of life, living, specific lifetimes and so on) would bestow upon the perceiver a wonderfully rare and glorious power. And in a very worldly sense - it would lead to becoming naturally productive and useful...which would be perfect for me. That makes some part of me immediately call myself a "donkey". That part of me is quite right in addressing me thus and for thinking that I can get away with such a thought. For it was this realm precisely which is so utterly beyond my ken that The Buddha brought within his purview of understanding. Old age, illness and death – every human being, at some point or the other is made aware of these parts of life and yet it was The Buddha who made it his life’s single purpose to understand the same, see through the same, remember his past lives and to even state that he would never be involved in the same and then he went forth to do what? - To teach others. 

And yet...but I'll let this post be. 

Here is a School of Life video, which made me nod my head in parts, disagree vociferously (a brain in a jar! - it reminded me of the creepy Roald Dahl tale) and mildly in parts and wonder a bit. I think it is still interesting on the whole. And here is an animation with a doggy Dustin and a Dust-in, which made me grin...it sort of reminded me of the lifelike robots from Asimov's tales.

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